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Of Christians celebrating twins

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Of Christians celebrating twins

Having twins or triplets does not allianate one his/her christian views

When twins were born to him in 2011 Salongo Jemba of Makerere debated whether to accord them a Christian celebration, writes Brian Magoba.

He ended up doing both, to emphasise his controversial view that being Christian does not alienate from one’s cultural practices. The “safe” ceremony was held on 15th January 2012 at King’s College Budo Chapel, the more misunderstood ceremony held throughout the night before.

The first recorded twin birth in Buganda during Ssekabaka Kintu’s reign was deemed so unusual the gods decreed through their medium Keeya that unusual things would be allowed to happen.

For instance, it is the only time that Baganda have a licence to publicly mouth obscenities of varying shades, the only time when physical contact is allowed between the parents and their in-laws (this includes a bum-bumping dance), and the only time they can sit together at the lujjuliro (traditional dining table), at least until the mujwa (child of either parent’s aunt) steps into the food.

Bawdy songs rich with puns and allegories abound, one of the tamer ones being “Abalongo twabazaala  babiri ne Salongo, Mayanja mwana wange, jjangu ozine abalongo (Together with Salongo we gave birth to the twins, Mayanja my child, come and dance/celebrate the twins)”.

Together with the invectives flung about at will, such double-entendre songs are what characterize the twin’s celebration in the minds of most people.

Semwanga David,  a born-again Christian and Manager at Amani Arts Exchange says, ” Honestly, I would never attend such cultural ceremonies, my Christian background killed off any interest I would have had, plus all those ideas of twins’ peculiar needs and observances are just myths.”

The popular imagination has so many things wrong about what exactly happens there. For example, no sex actually happens at the ceremony, but especially those who have never attended are quick to market it as a sex-fiesta.

So much has changed since the days before foreign influences diluted the importance of this ceremony to the Baganda. For example the ceremony for, Jonathan Waswa and Albright Kato would have ordinarily happened days, if not moments after they were born.

They would have started with Salongo Jemba climbing a tree in his father’s compound or atop his father’s kitchen and announcing to the four directions that he had had twins.

Instead, it took close to a year because of the need to find money to feed the invited guests, where before everyone carried foods they would cook to the ceremony, and all were invited regardless of relation to the celebrants.

Also, the now-esoteric materials needed for the Kiganda celebration are not as readily available as they used to be, as are qualified practitioners who now cost about 500,000/= because there are so few left.

A phone call replaced the father’s-compound announcement, and as more people satanize cultural practices, especially one as risky as the twins who if mishandled are believed to wreak misfortune, the increasingly-fewer celebrations are attended by even fewer numbers.

Michael Nsibambi, a veteran cultural-arts practitioner with the Baganda Nkoba Zambogo Association, said ” If I had twins, church would be the only option because by treating them the Kiganda way not only would I contravene my Biblical beliefs, but I fear what could happen to me if I did those things and messed them up”.

Examples of the misfortunes include skin discolorations that make one look like parts of their skin were burnt away ( abalongo okwokya), the twins killing off an unfaithful parent, and spreading ill-luck to the twins if their parent handles them before touching the lweza or bombo plants which work as virus-filtration mechanism.

But they also bring good luck, especially to their parents. Babirye Sylvia, a lecturer in dance and a twin herself, said, ” Our parents are immune to witchcraft, if they ask the umbilical cords that represent us in the basket where we are kept for anything they want, 98% of the time it will be granted them”.

The symbolic twins tied up in a basket are symbolic relatives of the physically-alive twins, and these are the ones that can not be stolen without harm coming to the thief, are immune to witchcraft, and can kill anyone who harbors bad intentions towards their parents if the enemy touches them.

To these add the marks of respect the parents assume, beginning with the honorary titles which, as Salongo Jemba observed in a paper presented to students of New York University’s Dance Abroad Program “mark us out as exceptional survivors who bear double every effort parents of single children make”.

Namuleme Kigula Sylvia, a Nalongo, adds that “twins stabilise families since they demand of parents to be faithful to each other or risk death, and grant long life and births to barren women since they also can cause childlessness to anyone who annoys them, especially intentionally.”

Still, the practices that define the Ganda twin’s celebration make for intriguing reading and participation; the mock fight between the substitute Nalongo and Salongo’s families, and the need to always include an even number of mpogola (unmashed bananas) to any meal the twins will partake of.

They don’t die, they “jump/ fly”, and when they do, Kiganda lore has it their bodies do not decompose, they stay white forever like Sleeping Beauties.

Except in especial circumstances like after the Nalongo and Salongo officially introduce them to their grandparents, the twins never leave their parent’s house to visit.

Luckily for the Baganda, the gods decreed to Keeya to celebrate them, instead of declaring them abominations fit for burial-alive in the forest scenarios like the Igbo ones Chinua Achebe writes about in Things Fall Apart.

As far as intangible cultural heritage goes, its one of those ceremonies one must attend before globalization mythologises such practices into oblivion.

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